All this remarkably intricate detail work serves as foundation for Tatum, Foxx and Clarke to unleash themselves in potentially epic action sequences. I visited on shoot day #33 of 82, when Emmerich's team was preparing for a pivotal fight scene, the first face off between Tatum's strapping Capitol cop and Clarke's sneering mercenary. The complicated fight choreography plays out atop a sprawling set made to look like the roof of the White House. Wind machines blared as Tatum—dressed much as he is in the film's promo poster--barrels into Clarke who is aiming a Javelin—a sort of heat seeking missile launcher—at a hovering helicopter—well, where one will be added via CGI.
In the scene, the two must dodge bullets and an explosion's debris while keeping up a rugged cat and mouse chase. Each time "action" was called Tatum and Clarke threw themselves literally full-bodied into the action again and again, burly shoulders hammering elbows into each other's strong jaws. In between takes, Tatum danced or bounced to keep his adrenaline going. With Magic Mike still fresh in my mind, I marveled at seeing Tatum's trademark physicality in action live. It was easy to see why in our interview Emmerich had called him, "The most physical actor I have ever met in my life."
Tatum's friend and business partner Carolin explained it this way:
"When you work with Channing, you really realize there’s very few actors working today that can do what he can do. I mean you see when he does Magic Mike, he can move like nobody else in his age group. And you only have so much time when you’re a young actor like that before your body just starts not being able to do it. And you watch him do these stunts, he’s flipping around and doing crazy stuff, like he did a bit in his small part in Haywire. And I just felt like we’ve gotta seize the opportunity and do one of these things because action movies are action movies. They’re super fun and they’ve got a certain formula to make them work. But when you have somebody in the role who can make you believe in them but also do the physical stuff, that’s really rare."
Though he had a stunt double—with a strong square jaw that made him a dead ringer for heroes of the 1980s videogame Contra--Tatum did every take I saw himself. It's a point of pride for him, Emmerich told us, "He did every stunt himself…I mean you have to talk him out of a stunt and the only way you can talk him out of a stunt is like 'It’s really high risk and you don’t see his face.' He’s always very concerned that you see his face, because he’s very proud that he does his own stunts. And it’s a little bit lost in the last ten years that people are proud of doing it. But it’s actually when you see him doing it, it’s like 'Oh yeah, this is the real thing.' There’s no face replacement. It’s Channing and you could not do that many face replacements anywhere, so it’s cool. I like it."
That day a point of contention between the director and his star was over one stunt in particular, one that Tatum told us he desperately wanted to do. "They’re still trying to talk me out of one stunt. I’m going to look at it and if I think I can do it. It’s just a fall, a 25-foot fall, but the way you have to fall is bad because you have to fall on your side or on your back and that’s always dangerous," Tatum admitted. "Yeah, that’s the only one questionable. Everything else will be me. I like doing this stuff though, it’s kind of the whole reason that you want to do the movie. When you’re reading it you’re like, 'Oh, I get to dive out a window? Cool! I get to jump off a building? Great!' So I love doing that stuff."
In a move more common for dance movies than action flicks, Emmerich and his longtime cinematographer Anna Foerster are using wide lenses to better capture Tatum's endless energy and seriously stunning physical prowess. Though the VFX and editing teams were on site, already hard at work to be sure film hits its summer deadline, I didn't get a look at edited footage of Tatum in action. But I am eager to see the wide coverage applied to Emmerich's ambitious adventure. Really, this could be Emmerich's biggest movie yet. I mean, it is the White House after all. As Kloser surmised, "It's like the White House is the one symbol in the world that as a building represents power, freedom, really democracy. This is all embodied in this one house. I mean, I don't know, what other symbol would be there if you wanted to say, 'This symbolizes the Western free world.' I wouldn't know anything else. If you play with those big ideas, you always somehow end up at the White House."
White House Down opens June 28th 2013. For more on the film, check out our interviews with Tatum and Emmerich. You can also see a ton of new images from the film in the photo gallery below.